There is a very interesting article on the blog Experimental Theology in which the author discusses the difference between educated Western sensibilities and those of prison inmates.
I’ve read some of the most scandalous passages in the bible to men in prison or with the poor and, for whatever reason, they haven’t blinked an eye. With liberal, educated audiences such passages would completely hijack the conversation…
This threw me for a loop at first. I’d get to some passage in the bible that had something horrible in it and I’d wait, hunkered down and prepared, for the inevitable barrage of questions and outrage. And nothing would happen. On the margins, at least in my experience, people seem perfectly comfortable with the blood and the violence and the wrath. The Old Testament God isn’t much of a scandal in these social locations.
It could be that these inmates are just desensitized (like the author wonders) but it could also be that the modern intellectual crowd has accepted as norms those concepts that only exist due to our privileged lives.
In her thesis A Life Unlived, Barbara N. Scarfo says of ancient Rome:
In his 1966 study on the age structure of the Roman population, Hopkins hypothesized that the life expectancy at birth fell in the age range of twenty to thirty years, an estimate that was later supported by the work of Parkin and Scheidel. Furthermore, it has been suggested that if an individual survived the critical period of childhood, then it was likely that they might live to at least middle age, approximately 40 to 50 years.
Compared to a developed society in the modern world, whose infant mortality rate is approximately less than 10 per 1000, the numbers that have been suggested for the Roman population are noticeably more severe. These rates have been the subject of debate among scholars who study ancient demographic patterns; however, it seems that the numbers differ only slightly from source to source. With the assumption of life expectancy at birth of 25 years, Hopkins estimates that about 28% of all newborn babies did not survive to the age of one year. Furthermore, he suggests that approximately 50% of children did not survive past the age of 10.
Imagine a world in which 50% of children did not live past the age of 10. Combine this with roving bands of barbarians, plagues, pillaging armies, starvation, and just the brutal work environment, and it is a wonder any human being has survived to the present. The past was unimaginably miserable. Needless to say, the modern notion that life is precious and really must be protected at all costs is a modern notion.
Today, we rightly ask if God was justified to drown babies in a worldwide flood, just as we ask if America was justified to kill babies with an atom bomb during World War 2. The questions should be asked, but we should also remember, we are living in a amazingly, fantastical place and time. Our riches might bias our intellectual conclusions.